How To Discuss Your Child's Progress With Their Teacher

What is a parents role in education? Former teacher and FFHQ's Education Expert, Ciara McGuane, talks about your role in your child's education and how you can discuss your child's process with their teacher.

“Parents are the child’s primary educators, and the life of the
home is the most potent factor in his or her development during the primary
school years. There is a continuing process through which the child’s formal
learning experience in school interacts with the less formal developmental
experience of the home and the family.

It is widely recognised that significant educational, social and behavioural benefits accrue to the child as a result of effective partnership between parents and teachers. Close co-operation between the home and the school is essential, therefore, if children are to receive the maximum benefit from the curriculum”.

-Primary School Curriculum Introduction, 1999, p21

From the outset, it is crucial that you, as a parent, understand how important you are in the education of your child, even though it may feel as if school is separate from home life, and learning is something that happens behind closed doors at school.

You are very much part of your child’s education and the progress he or she makes in school is a combination of home and school environments.

Even as a teacher, I can relate to this feeling of being separate to what happens in the classroom, as my own child has begun Early Years (pre-school) and thereby has taken his first step on the journey into formal education.

My own experience of working with young people is not with children that young and consequently my understanding of what “good progress” is in this setting is very much dependant on the communication I have with educators there.

Generally, schools and teachers are accommodating and have the foresight to plan a plethora of opportunities for parents to communicate with teachers.

Person writing in a notebook
Depending on what your child’s needs are and what you are discussing with your child’s teacher, you could well face a barrage of terminology that you may not be clear on.

Here are some of the planned opportunities that schools create to engage with parents:

  • Information evenings
  • Coffee mornings
  • Daily / Weekly School Diary Communication
  • Letters home
  • School events
  • Parent-Teacher Evenings
  • School Reports
  • Text messages
  • Website updates
  • Newsletter

Obviously, not all of these are opportunities to speak to the teacher, principal or support staff about your child’s progress in-depth but they are important instances where the lines of communication can remain open; you can gain an understanding of school life and build relationships with key figures in your child’s life.

If you would like to discuss your child’s progress outside of
pre-arranged times, you should make arrangements with the school. In some
schools, you contact the teacher directly and in some, appointments must be
made via the secretary.

There are a few barriers that can hamper quality communication
between parents and teachers including use of terminology and time.

Use of terminology

There is so much educational jargon nowadays for teaching methods, curriculums, learning concepts, policies, government agencies, support staff and so on.

Depending on what your child’s needs are and what you are discussing with your child’s teacher, you could well face a barrage of terminology that you may not be clear on.

Again, back to my own parenting experiences, I am not an expert in the terminology around Early Years education and use of unfamiliar language would cause confusion for me, despite my educational training.

The moral of the story is to ensure that you ask the teacher to explain any words that you don’t understand. As teachers, we can get so caught up in our education bubble that we don’t realise that the language we use freely is not familiar to most people outside the profession.

By pausing and asking the teacher to explain the word; it will remind the teacher of this fact and help them when speaking to other parents also.

The NCCA (see I told you about the jargon!) which stands for the National Council for Curriculum & Assessment website has resources for parents which clarifies some of the terminology used.

Kids putting their hands up in a classroom
You are very much part of your child’s education and the progress he or she makes in school is a combination of home and school environments.

Time

As highlighted, there are lots of pre-arranged opportunities for you to engage with your child’s teacher. However, that being said, we all know how busy life gets (you should see my to-do list!) and these chances to engage with your child’s teacher might not suit every parent.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to attend everything or to respond to every piece of communication, particularly the non-urgent. Some days, you may not even get the chance to open up the school bag!

In addition, to the pressures on parents, it is important to
remember, there are also growing time pressures on teachers.

Whereas traditionally, a parent and teacher might have had the
chance for an informal chat at the start and the end of the day; this is
becoming less and less possible as teachers often have other commitments such
as breakfast clubs, homework clubs, music and sporting activities in which they
are responsible for. As well as ensuring that they can get to their lessons on
time!

Even at the Parent-Teacher Evenings, there is a time limit for each parent. At primary school, it is about 10 to 15 minutes long and at post-primary it can be just a few minutes with each subject teacher.

This is to ensure that teachers get to speak with all parents. I think we can all agree that this is not that long, especially if you have a few things you would like to discuss. And, so it is clear that time can be a barrier to effective communication between parent and teacher.

What I am getting at is, that as much as you can, do try to show face and get involved with the non-essential school events and activities. This ensures that you are a familiar face to teachers and means that you are more likely to have beneficial conversations regarding your child’s education, just because you are around more!

By playing a more active role in school life and committing to supporting at a bake sale or sporting event once or twice a year, you can bypass some of the issues around shortened access to teachers.

That being said, as clarified previously, if you wish to make appointments outside of pre-arranged events, you should do so.

To summarise, remember that you are important! You are your
child’s primary educator – the teacher’s role is to supplement what is
happening at home with a formal education at school. It is a fine balance.

By building strong relationships with your child’s teachers and
members of staff at the school and working in partnership with them, you are
giving your child the best head-start in formal education.

Ciara McGuane

Ciara is a former teacher and school leader working as an education consultant in the UK & Ireland.

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